Posted by Eric on 4/8/2020 to South Africa
I think I had mentioned more than a couple times in previous posts that it was our goal to use as many of the firearms we took into the country as possible on our South African hunt. Unfortunately we hit a couple snags along the way: first and foremost, the Mutt's (previously heralded "can't miss" 6.5x284 Norma caliber Encore) prowess had been established early on and it was obvious our host's enthusiasm created an open door to use the rifle again and again. Second, we were out of the rut season and moving within big bore rifle range and/or pistol range of these animals on their own turf was proving difficult. And third, the Nikon optic that was on my "Larry" pistol pooped the bed somewhere along the line and jostling in the 11,000 mile journey. It refused to adjust and hold zero no matter how much we tried. This was especially disheartening to me as I had hoped to do the majority of my hunting with the Larry Kelly inspired Mag-Na-Port tuned 6.5 JDJ barrel on a T/C Contender pistol frame. I had already had tremendous luck with this setup in December 2018 on a 200 pound wild boar creeping along 104 yards away at absolute last shooting light. Unfortunately, with limited range time and animals still on the list, AND the 375 JDJ pistol topped with our only other pistol scope, Larry would have to ride the bench. What a bummer.
Enter hunting day 10 stage right. You can read Dad's recap of day 10 if you want then backtrack to mine, they're sure to intersect and contradict in interesting ways. We hon ad just come off the wild Day 9 events of the fantastic Warthog stalk and then the stalk and wait for Bushbuck to emerge in pouring rain. Talk about riding a high. There was only really just one animal left on our original list of ten, the Steenbuck. The Steenbuck are these squirrelly little antelope that will sometimes watch you thinking they're secure in their hidey holes, and sometimes be running for no darn reason not even giving you the chance to set up a stalk. More pertinent information on the Steenbuck in my epic recap of "hunting with Mom" from hunting day 7.
But here's the deal... There had been no opportunities for pistol kills to that point, save for Dad's cull Warthog early on in the trip. It was a 40 yard chip shot that he made off hand. Or so the story says anyway, I wasn't there to witness the exploits. Dad expressed to all of us that should the chance arrive to take a Kudu with a pistol, he would relish the opportunity to take another off-list animal. The thing is this, Dad was frustrated. We went expecting to do more pistol killing than anything, and due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, partly the result of extremely hot weather and partly the result of animals being slaves to shadows and moonlight, the pistol stuff just wasn't happening. So his desire to take a Kudu with a pistol wasn't motivated by the need to compete or living in excess beyond our means, he truly wanted to make a stalk and quality shot on a Kudu to serve the pistol hunting community well.
That being said, with Steenbuck on the mind, we did what we had done every day to that point and set out to see what the bush had to offer. And early that day, it's obvious that she was offering Kudu. We probably saw more Kudu that morning than we had seen the rest of the 9 days earlier combined. And I'm not joking around. The temps had cooled down, sun was intermittent with somewhat overcast skies and the grey ghosts were on the move. We probably tried 5 different stalks that didn't result in a shot prior to seeing a few very nice Nyala bulls and switching gears. If it needed to be a Nyala that caught the 185 grain Lehigh from the 375 JDJ pistol, then it would be the Nyala. At one point from the road we spotted a gorgeous Nyala bull just 60 or 70 yards away and Denver pulled behind a tree then stopped. As he and Dad offloaded he instructed me to take the driver seat and pull ahead 300-400 yards. This was a tactic they had employed before creating the image for the animal that the ranch truck had driven off and any human concerns they had drove off with it. Still though, nothing productive came from that stalk though it was exciting.
Later on, a larger group of Nyala with a couple of great bulls presented themselves in our path. So we set up. Then we moved. We tried to stalk. Then we set up an ambush. And another ambush. And another. The Nyala ewes were so spooked that morning that they were on the run constantly and as chance would have it they pulled the bulls along with. There were opportunities where we had Nyala passing within 40 yards through the thick stuff but so swiftly and through such a narrow window that they didn't present a shot.
Dad was rattled. Even a little unsure of himself. The sky was spitting rain off and on and it felt like the temps couldn't decide whether they wanted to be cool or hot. We went from coats, to t-shirts, to hoodies and back to coats in a matter of minutes all while swiftly traversing the steep, rocky hills in and out of canyons. Finally, the Nyala took one move in a direction we didn't anticipate and were gone over the next hill and out of site. Dad was so frustrated in fact that he told me if another opportunity came where animals were moving and it was past 40-50 yards he wanted me to take the shot. ABSOLUTE HOGWASH. I wasn't hearing it. Besides, this is what it always is, whether in Africa or at home... hunting, not killing. Sometimes it's surprisingly easy and sometimes it's gut wrenchingly difficult. Today, up to that point, was the latter.
We took one more drive over to an area called Stilfontein, Dad mentions it in earlier posts by calling it "the pantry" because it's one of the most game-rich spots on Coppermoon's property. There is just always something to watch or see. We parked on the road and quietly headed up to the crest of the hill to look over down the deep ravine and into the valley below that held dense bush and a spring. Almost immediately Denver signalled to duck fast and came back with the report that he spotted 2 mature Kudu bulls bedded down on the edge of the bush at just 220 yards away. Yep, you heard right, BEDDED DOWN. Kudu? Not moving in and out of shadows? Sitting still? Are you kidding me?!
As we stalked into position to creep around the edge of the bush then prepare to get settled for a shot, Dad came to me again, "Eric, I want you to take the shot." I replied swiftly and pointedly, "Absolutely not! I already got my Kudu, this shot is already in the bag. Just see it and squeeze the trigger". The rest as they say is history. We made another great stalk to quietly get into position, the target bull spotted the top of Denver's head while sneaking into position but either couldn't make out what they were nor was he that threatened by their presence. They got set in the Bog Pod and dad squeezed off the shot to a very clear THWACK as it struck and disintegrated the shoulder of the bull.
The bull stood on three legs and slowly started moving away and was at about 300 yards when Dad put a second shot, this time with the 375 JDJ rifle into his hind end to slow him down completely. But as Denver says, "What's faster than a Kudu?... A 3 legged Kudu!" I took the pistol with a handful of rounds and left Dad on overwatch with the rifle as Denver and I tumbled down the steep cliff hoping to put an end to any thought of a pursuit. The situation wasn't necessarily one that would determine who deserved to take the last shot at the bull, it was truly a race to prevent a chase. And I had 23 years on my side. Simple as that. Once in the thick bush we found blood almost immediately and Timmy the Beagle confirmed his whereabouts in less than a hundred yards.
We spotted the bull 25-30 yards away facing us in the brush and I ducked into a window, cocked the hammer and lowered the crosshairs right on his chest and fired. A formality at that point, but the bull teetered, and swayed before finally toppling and breathing his last. Dad has mentioned before that we're competitive, which might be an understatement, but I have to say that in this case I was a little jealous. His bull's massive spiral horns were noticeably heavier than my bull from day 5 and even a little worse for the wear. He was an extremely excellent old bull, one worthy of all those unproductive stalks and frustrating hours watching the Kudu see us before we saw them. That said, I realize this wasn't just his bull. I insisted he take the first shot. Actually demanded it because I knew he had it in him, and I was honored to take the final shot. But this wasn't just his bull or my bull or our bull. This incredible Kudu is the product of all pistol hunters before us, the entire community we hunt with and for and support, and all who helped push us into this first of a lifetime hunt. We are blessed, and we know it.
Probably worth noting: While the first round from the pistol burst into oblivion in that old bull's shoulder, I'm happy to say that I recovered the second 185 grain Lehigh Controlled Fracture round from inside the bull. Which mean the head on chest shot I fired at short range traveled roughly three feet before the base came to a stop inside the stomach lining. You can see it pictured here as well mocked up with the original casing it fired from. Just an absolute bad day for any animal finding their way into its path.
How did Mom get her Steenbuck? Oh, you wouldn't even believe it. We went back and had lunch following Dad's successful extraction of his mature Kudu from the herd and within 10 minutes had a fantastic Steenbuck on the ground. I am absolutely not kidding. We went on a drive, Denver spotted it from the road and we parked. There was a very tactical and cautious but quick 100 yard stalk to get into position for a 155 yard shot and Mom put it right on his shoulder and down he went! Actually these little characters are only about 25-30 pounds full mature so it didn't just go down. It flipped back and rolled about 12 feet or so, but he was definitely finished before hitting the ground. You wouldn't think that an antelope that small would command much attention, but goodness, these little guys are about as regal and handsome as they come. Not to mention off and on over the course of the 10 day hunt we probably gave more time to the Steenbuck than any other animal. Okay that's a lie, Kudu probably takes the cake! THEN Bushbuck, THEN Steenbuck. But still, we probably saw more Steenbuck in an attempt to make a stalk or identify a mature one than any other animal in the area.
And so it came and went the last day of our African hunt. Each day holding just as much or more excitement and uncertainty as the day before it. Now home and settled back into this weird new "normal" sort of quarantined shelter at home style of living it's hard to believe we only just experienced this final day of hunting 4 weeks ago.
Then again, the memories are so vivid it's even harder to believe we're not still there.